December 3 marks the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. According to the UN, the day is set aside “to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”
Many with disabilities have defied the odds or simply refused to see them. Instead of resigning to their fate, they have chosen to work on their limitations to make something of themselves. One such person is Mércia Viriato Lica. A lawyer and an activist, Lica became the youngest member of parliament in Mozambique this year at the age of 23.
Born without arms, Lica took office on January 13 at the assembly of Mozambique as a member of the constituency of the western province of Tete. She was among 250 deputies who assumed office for the 9th Legislature of the Assembly of the Republic following the legislative elections of October 2019.
“I hope to contribute to the country’s development in terms of schooling and education. Encouraging young people to never stop studying because education is the path to life,” Lica told the publication Carta de Moçambique on her inauguration day as a deputy.
“I believe that, being here in the Casa Magna, I will encourage and inspire many people through the activities that I will carry out during my term. I believe that when people look at me and see that I am capable, they will also be able to get up. ”
Indeed, Lica had to overcome many challenges while chasing her goals.
Abandoned by her father when she was a baby, her mother raised her in her home province of Inhambane. In 2003 when she began primary school, her mother was advised to place her in a specialized institution but lacking the means to do so, Lica had to go through the traditional school system. She recalled what happened the day she entered primary school with her mom. “I went to ask for a pen and a notebook. I wrote my full name with my toes. The director was amazed. So far I wonder why we should be in a special school?”
Living with a birth defect, she has had to do a number of activities that require hands and arms with her feet. “I do everything with my lower limbs. Write, cook, clean and tidy the house, ” she told the Moz News newspaper.
In 2019, she obtained her law degree at Maputo’s Pedagogical University. The year before, the young activist wrote Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi via his Facebook page, calling for better living conditions for people with disabilities in the country. The president was moved by her words and eventually urged her to stand for the legislative elections. Nyusi even paid her a surprise visit in her home.
Lica is currently serving a five-year term in parliament under the majority FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique). She is not only an inspiration to people with disabilities but any young individual with dreams of being successful. In January 2020 when she took the oath of office alongside other parliamentarians, many were elated, including activist Benilde Mourana.
“I was happy with the election of the young Mércia, a girl with a disability as a deputy of the Assembly of the Republic, after all, inclusion must start somewhere,” Mourana said. “I hope she is no longer a deputy, but that deputy who takes the real concerns of people with disabilities to the big house. Mercia alone is not enough, that wave of inclusion spreads to other key sectors in the area of disability.”
People with disabilities in Mozambique continue to face social, physical, and economic barriers to participation despite the country’s ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (ICCPD), which protects and promotes the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. According to the UN, 17 percent of people with disabilities in Mozambique have been refused entry into a school or preschool because of their disability.
Despite the challenges they face, many of them are determined to succeed and Lica is sure to help them in this regard.